November 27, 2007

Brother Vernon: No Less Serviceable

Brigham Young
March 16, 1856


In a powerful editorial moment of the Book of Mormon, the record compiler pauses to heap praise upon the famous Captain Moroni, saying if all men could be like him the very powers of hell would be shaken forever (see Alma 48:17). Two verses later, Mormon comes back down to earth a little and remembers to mention the others:

Now behold, Helaman and his brethren were no less serviceable unto the people than was Moroni; for they did preach the word of God, and they did baptize unto repentance all men whosoever would hearken unto their words (Alma 48:19).
The sensational people and stories may get more airtime, but for each of those there are countless others in the background doing their duty in quiet ways. Brigham Young took a moment in this particular discourse to highlight an "every-day" Latter-day Saint who might not make the front page of the Deseret News (est. 1850), but through his plodding efforts deserved commendation:

There are thousands of individuals in these valleys, and I may say thousands within this City, men, women, and children, who are constantly minding their own business, living their religion, and are full of joy, from Monday morning until Saturday night. On this account, they do not obtrude themselves and their acts upon the notice of the public, hence, they are known but by few.

Probably my beloved brother Vernon, who has spoken to you this morning, is not known by many of this congregation, for since his arrival in our midst he has been quietly and industriously practicing the principles of our religion.

For this reason a formal introduction of brother Vernon to the congregation might by some have been deemed necessary, but with me “Mormonism” is, “Out with the truth,” and that will answer our purposes, and is all we desire.

Who was this "brother Vernon"? Brigham yielded a small but important clue:


Brother Vernon came here with Elder Taylor, when he returned from Europe. He is not known except by a few of his associates, who have been laboring with him at the Sugar Works.
John Taylor served a European mission in the 1850s when he became aware of the possibility of producing sugar in Utah. Soon, Elder Taylor started up a private enterprise to ship sugar machinery and employees to Utah. After being located at Temple Square for a time, it was moved south of Salt Lake to a settlement which was subsequently named "Sugar House."[1] A man named Joseph Venables Vernon accompanied Elder Taylor to Utah. His story was detailed in 2002 by a descendant who was interested in family history who discovered his name on a family group sheet in her mother's genealogy book.[2]

Though we remember John Taylor, it seems there were others around him who were "no less serviceable." Brigham continued:

Brother Vernon came here with Elder Taylor, when he returned from Europe. He is not known except by a few of his associates, who have been laboring with him at the Sugar Works. But, suppose he had been guilty of swearing in the streets, of getting intoxicated, of fighting, and carousing, he would have been noted character, and there would hardly have been a child but what would, by this time, have known brother Vernon; and the expressions would have been, "O, he is the man we saw drunk the other day, the one whom we heard swear and saw fight; the one who was tried before the High Council for disorderly conduct, or reproved before a General Conference for his wickedness."

But brother Vernon is almost entirely unknown, because he has lived his religion, kept the commandments of God, and minded his own business. So it is with many in this City, they are known but by few, they live here, year after year, and are scarcely known in the community, because they pay attention to their own business.
They live their religion, love the Lord, rejoice continually, are happy all the day long, and satisfied, without making an excitement among the people. This is "Mormonism." I wish we were all so, I should then indeed be very much pleased.
Brigham envisioned a Zion society where everyone lived as "one," and happiness would reign. He saw reality around him, however, and knew that even if a Zion society was not immediately forthcoming, a personal Zion was just as important. Take personal responsibility for your happiness:

I think such a state of society would answer my happiness, not particularly my spiritual enjoyment, for I know that in that particular I must be happy for myself. I must live my religion for myself, and enjoy the light of truth for myself, and when I do that all hell cannot deprive me of it, nor of its fruits.

My spiritual enjoyment must be obtained by my own life, but it would add much to the comfort of the community, and to my happiness, as one with them, if every man and woman would live their religion, and enjoy the light and glory of the Gospel for themselves, be passive, humble, and faithful; rejoice continually before the Lord, attend to the business they are called to do, and be sure never to do anything wrong.
If all men were like unto Brother Vernon...

All would then be peace, joy, and tranquility, in our streets and in our houses. Litigation would cease, there would be no difficulties before the High Council and Bishops' Courts, and courts, turmoil, and strife would not be known. Then we would have Zion, for all would be pure in heart.

I should be pleased if we had a few more thousands of such men as brother Vernon. That class, I am happy to say, is increasing, this I can truly say, for the encouragement of this community.
Brigham believed- no matter what circumstances he may be placed in- his happiness was his responsibility. He also looked forward to a better society, and though he often preached on improvement, he occaisionally gave the Saints in the territory credit for how things were running generally, especially considering they were such an eclectic group of people:[3]

When we reflect upon how many strangers we gather to these valleys, those who formerly believed some of the various creeds of the day, which did not fully inform them upon the principles of the Gospel, who come clothed upon with many of the diverse traditions and customs of different nations and neighborhoods, and how harmoniously they mingle, how few differences exist among them, how little strife and wickedness, it is a subject full of consolation.

Still there is much more strife than we should have, yet, with all, consider how easily, under these varied circumstances, we get along, how easily we pass the time, and with what little difficulty. I can say in truth, for the comfort and credit of this community, that the Latter-day Saints are indeed improving.
Brigham knew every brick was important if the wall was to stand for eternity. The gospel plan is such, he taught, that it would rightly govern one individual. And if the individual, then two, and so on. (We are talking about reigning as kings and priests, queens and priestesses unto God, and some of us can't keep or desks organized!):

The very rudiments of the Gospel of our salvation teach the principles best adapted to control the child, and if so, of course, best designed to guide his steps when he has advanced further in life. And if best for instruction in the government of one, they must be for that of two, and if for that of two, then they must needs be for that of a family, of a neighborhood, of a nation, and of the whole earth.

No man ever did, or ever will rule judiciously on this earth, with honor to himself and glory to his God unless he first learn to rule and control himself. A man must first learn to rightly rule himself, before his knowledge can be fully brought to bear for the correct government of a family, a neighborhood, or nation, over which it is his lot to preside.
So the rank and file plod along, learning to take care of their individual stewardships. Some might wish they had a larger stage on which to perform. Some might simply wish they could do more to further the cause of God, regardless of the recognition. Think of Alma, when he wrote:

O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!

Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth.
He concluded, however:

But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me. Alma 29:1-3).
Elder Neal A. Maxwell discussed how we can be content with our allotments, even when they are less desirable; perhaps especially when they are less desirable. People like Alma and Brother Vernon experience a sort of spiritual tranquility in whatever they may encounter. As Elder Maxwell pointed out, "Paul described it as 'godliness with contentment,' signifying the adequate presence of attributes such as love, hope, meekness, patience, and submissiveness (1 Tim. 6:6)."

He mentioned the allotments some must "pass through," and some one must "live with." Location, relationships, occupations, setbacks; life itself is the testing ground, and though it differs for all, "what we are and what we do" with what we have is what matters; be our allotment large and conspicuous, or small and seemingly unnoticed; Christ sees even the sparrow that falls.[4]

Brother Vernon must have understood the lesson David O. McKay learned as a young, discouraged missionary in Scotland. His attitude was turned around by a simple stone carving that said "Where e're thou art, act well thy part."[5]

Where would I be without my mother, who goes largely unrecognized for raising her children? without faithful seminary teachers like Brother Read and Brother Richardson, or without Various teachers and other great examples of faith or scholarship who have helped me become who I am? They acted well their part, and they are "no less serviceable" to me than the prophets and apostles. Brother Vernon and many other saints of the rank and file won't likely be on tonight's news, but theirs is a holy and important calling nonetheless.

In the end, accolades, recognition and applause will not save our souls; what we have become through steady faith in Christ will fill us with charity, "the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him" (Moroni 7:47).



Footnotes:

[1]

For more on the sugar experiment (which was a costly failure at least until the 1900s) see B. H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-1930, 3:88, 395-402; Charles L Schmalz, "The Failure of Utah's First Sugar Factory", Utah Historical Quarterly, 56:1 (1988);
Leonard Arrington, Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience, 123; Robert A. Burton, Paul Alan Cox, "Sugarbeet Culture and Mormon Economic Development in the Intermountain West," Economic Botany, Volume 52, Number 2 (April, 1998), pp. 201-206; Nate Oman, "The Quandary of the Sugarbeets," Times and Seasons, Jan. 31, 2008.

[2]
From "Vernon, Utah's First Sugar Project," , last accessed 11/15/2007.

The Vernon family lived in Hull, England, shown by the census of 1851.

EAST SCULCOATES, HULL, Yorkshire

VERNON
Joseph, 43, b. Winsford, Cheshire
Margaret, 42, b. Northwich, Cheshire
Christiana, 20, b. Liverpool, Lancashire
John, 16, b. Liverpool, Lancashire
Eliza Brenton, 11, b. Hull, Yorkshire
Emily A., 7, b. Hull, Yorkshire
Horatio, 1m., b. Hull, Yorkshire

Next to John's name was scribbled in pencil "disappeared 1854." It appears he was killed by an Indian after accompanying his father to Utah to aid in the sugar works.

Joseph Venables Vernon traveled to America in 1852 on the ship, "Niagra", with John Taylor. That boat docked in Boston. John Venables Vernon, the son, traveled on the ship "Rockaway" with the sugar machinery purchased in England. That ship docked in New Orleans, then brought the machinery up the Mississippi River to St Louis, Missouri, where they joined up with John Taylor's party. From here they took the massive machinery (it took 52 wagons to carry it all) 1200 miles. The Sugar project became a failure when they found they did not have all the necessary equipment or experience.
Thanks to Virginia Andrus, who located and provided the photograph of Brother Vernon.

[3]

For more on community and unity see "A Visit to the Southern Settlements: The Miracle of Unity."

[4]
Neal A. Maxwell, "Content With The Things Alloted To Us," General Conference, April, 2000.

[5]
Cherished Experiences from the Writings of David O. McKay, comp. Clare Middlemiss [1955], 174–75.




2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I enjoy this website, and appreciate the article "Brother Vernon: No less Serviceable", but who is behind it? Who is the author? It would be nice to know who added the editorial comments to this excerpt from the Journal of Discourses.

LifeOnaPlate said...

Thanks for stopping by. My name is Blair Hodges, I am the author and proprietor of this blog and all the posts herein. I guess I ought to add some info about who I am to the site, thanks for the advice.

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